SE: Team Tate
SE: Team Tate
Nick Walsh is more than a punter for K-State.
He’s a legitimate last line of defense, shown by his two touchdown-saving tackles last season, which shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise given his athletic background — all-state honors in four sports at Lyndon.
He’s a former walk-on who turned down Division II opportunities to play more high-profile positions (linebacker, running back) for a chance to punt in front of 50,000 K-State fans.
He’s a competitor who’s always looking for an edge, most recently taking up yoga to improve his flexibility and mental focus.
He’s a preseason candidate for the Ray Guy Award for the second year in a row, a feat he takes pride in but doesn’t spend time thinking about.
He’s a faithful friend to a nine-year-old boy who’s always on his mind and who’s taught him more about life than football ever could.
About a year ago, Tate Reid was like most eight-year-old boys. He loved sports — playing and watching — and had energy that seemed endless at times.
Life, for Tate and his family, suddenly took a turn when he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Lymphoma (ALL), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
Hours previously spent in school or playing sports outside were siphoned to treatment-filled time in the hospital or simply being cooped up in the house while his immunity was low.
Less than a week after being diagnosed, Tate received a phone call while in Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. On the other end was Walsh, who was connected with Tate through the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
The phone call wasn’t lengthy, but it set the tone for Walsh’s desire to help in any way possible.
“‘Look, buddy, I can’t say I know what you’re going through, but I want to be there every step of the way with you and I just want to have an impact on your life,’’” Walsh recalls telling Tate over the phone.
Tate’s parents, Amy and Eric Reid — both K-State graduates — were ecstatic about the match. Their son was a diehard K-State fan and they welcomed any chance to boost his spirits with open arms.
The relationship Walsh and Tate developed, however, exceeded everyone’s expectations.
“It’s been a great thing, a better thing than I could ever hope for him as far as having something to look forward to and something to bring him up,” Eric said. “At the beginning of all this, I would have never thought those things mattered too much. I thought we’d be OK. He just looks forward to that stuff so much.”
“He’s been incredibly faithful,” Amy added of Walsh, who was motivated to make the connection by seeing his former teammate Ryan Mueller do so with Kaiden Schroeder. “If he had come and visited a couple times, we would’ve been appreciative of that, but he’s just become part of the family.”
Walsh has visited Tate about once a week since the two were matched. Tate has also officially been in remission since last December and, if he has zero relapses, his exit date from treatment will be December 27, 2018.
Throughout all of the uncertainties, the ups and the downs, one thing has become clear: Walsh was fully invested from the start.
Walsh called during treatments. He visited Tate in the hospital — even after a 55-0 loss to Oklahoma. He texted apologies when his loaded schedule of football and upper-level finance courses kept him from visiting as often as he’d like.
Walsh, as Eric put it, has been “a faithful friend.”
When asked what he likes about Walsh, Tate rattled off two things: “He’s friendly and he’s good at video games.” Walsh is quick to point out who’s better, however. “He always beats me,” the junior punter said.
The two have bonded over just about anything competitive they can find.
They’ve golfed and dueled in putt-putt. They play Ping-Pong, once facing off on the table in the Vanier Family Football Complex, “and I still beat him,” said Tate, who got a complete tour of the football facility and met K-State head coach Bill Snyder. “He just told Nick not to play too much mini golf,” Tate, laughing, recalled of the encounter.
Whether they’re battling in a videogame, building a Lego jet or throwing the football around in the backyard, each are providing the other a positive experience.
“He’s brought a lot of smiles and something to look forward to for all of us, not just Tate,” Amy said of Walsh, who once shaved his head to match Tate. “I completely trust him and know that he’s somebody Tate can look up to. He works hard, he’s kind and he’s got a selfless heart. I couldn’t have asked for a better match.”
During the majority of the 2015-16 school year, Tate was unable to attend class in person. Thanks to technology he was able to control an in-class robot, which used an iPad with video chat software, to participate from home.
One day, students were asked to think of one positive and one negative thing that happened to them during that week. When it was Tate’s turn, he had nothing negative to share.
“To hear that come from an eight-year-old, no one told him to say that, that’s just his outlook on life,” Walsh said. “That just taught me that no matter how bad you think things are, they could always be worse. When an eight-year-old is saying stuff like that, what does that say about me complaining about it being 105 degrees out when I’m doing workouts?”
To be clear, this is the same Tate who’s endured numerous rounds of chemotherapy and steroid treatments, lumbar punctures — the collection of spinal fluid by a needle — and bone marrow aspirations — his least favorite part of trips to the hospital that consist of the removal of bone marrow via a needle.
When talking about all of this, Tate counters with: “One happy part was that I got to play on the pinball machine in the hospital.”
Tate’s naturally positive outlook has rubbed off on Walsh, who recalls looking over periodically during the West Virginia game, seeing Tate in his No. 14 jersey on the sideline and feeling a sense of inspiration. (Walsh punted a career-high 11 times that game, highlighted by a 62-yard boot.)
“I’m very grateful for this platform and to be able to use that to make an impact in Tate’s life. I just consider him a little brother now and I can consider myself a part of his family. He’s one of the strongest kids I’ve ever met in my life,” Walsh said. “He’s taught me a lot and changed me into a man that hopefully he sees one day that he can be.
“It’s really changed my outlook on life. He’s a very courageous kid and I just could not say enough good things about him.”
The Reid family feels the same way about Walsh.
At K-State’s Fan Appreciation Day, Tate and his family joined the hundreds of Wildcats fans seeking a closer look at the team. The closer they got, the more they saw players sporting a bracelet, which Walsh made last year for the team with the words “Team Tate” etched into them.
Tate, who’s been surrounded by support in the Manhattan community and beyond, has also got a handwritten letter and autographed poster from Coach Snyder. This, along with the sideline passes for the Wildcats’ bowl-clinching win over West Virginia last season, prompted Eric to write back to Snyder, only to receive a thank-you letter for his thank-you letter.
“It’s hard to one-up Coach,” Eric said, smiling. “He’s just an amazing man.”
“We’re very appreciative of everything he’s done at K-State, and just the man that he is and the character he has,” Amy said, “and it’s obvious in his players.”
Walsh is the latest example of what Snyder looks for his players to become, someone who seeks excellence off the field as diligently as he does on it.
“Nick has always been an extremely mature young man. To me, it fits him, it fits his personality,” said K-State associate head coach/special teams coordinator Sean Snyder. “He has a really, really big heart.”
Back to Normal
Tate is back in school, is no longer forced to wear a mask in crowded areas and sports a full head of hair. His scheduled visits to the hospital have decreased to once a month.
“I’m feeling like my normal self,” Tate said, “all crazy and stuff.”
Walsh is back on the field, working to keep punts out of the end zone and force more fair catches in preparation for the 2016 season that begins Friday at Stanford. His trips to hang out with Tate have remained at about once a week.
“He’s taught me a lot,” Walsh said. “Patience is a big thing he’s taught me.”
The brotherly competitiveness is still there, as is the excitement for game days this fall. Walsh hopes to get Tate to a few games. Tate and his family hope Walsh, undoubtedly their favorite player, doesn’t play much — meaning the offense is likely putting up a lot of points.
When Walsh does punt, Tate knows his favorite player — whose career punting average (41.48 yards) ranks sixth in school history — is more than capable of making a tackle too. “He did have a penalty on a late hit against the Beakers,” Tate brings up with a smile, referring to Walsh’s personal foul against KU in 2014.
When Walsh glances at Tate on the sideline or looks to the “Team Tate” bracelet on his arm, he’ll also do so with a smile.
“I really feel like that’s why God brought me to K-State, was to be able to help that kid and be invested in his life and his family’s life,” Walsh said. “They might think I’m a blessing to their family, but in all reality he’s helped me more than I’ve helped him.”